On Uprooting One’s Existence, And Then Planting It

From Qumran Back To America

Why is it that we tend to become so tired when we move? Not just physically,—because it’s pretty easy to move, to hire some people to pick up and transport your boxes, to fly you or drive you somewhere—but tired for your whole being, your mind, your will.

Under all reasonable inspection it can also be pretty physically painless to move. Yet, even in spite of the removal of any pain or strain, moving still tends to be very tiring on the emotions and the psyche, and even on the not-strained body. Why is that?

I was thinking about this while we were riding in a taxi on our way to the airport from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv about two weeks ago.

We had spent most of our final week in Jerusalem making baby steps toward our move. On one day we simply moved our suitcases from the closet to the living room. On another day we moved our books from the nook by the kitchen table to the couch next to the lone window of our small basement apartment, which we called ‘Qumran’. On another day I took a stack of Penguin edition paperbacks to a nice bookstore in Rechavia to trade. On another day I took a more scattered pile to trade at Sefer Ve Sefel off of Jaffa Street. Each day doing one thing. Until the day before we were leaving when we packed all of our bags; cleaned the bathroom; cleaned the small hall office; swept the porch; emptied our bedroom; began to clean the kitchen and living room; found an excuse to brew the last of my Turkish coffee. Ah yes, well, the day before that, we had also picked up a new broom head.

Earlier in the year I decapitated the broom we had just in case I needed to use the handle to defend the neighbors from some unruly youths who had made a habit of visiting the hallway sized street next to our bedroom window every Thursday night. This was before Corona, and since I had lost the old brush. But they would come throwing stones at a specific neighbor house that always seemed to be guarded by some young girls who I later found out were messianic Jews.

Anyway, along with the broom brush we also purchased a new door handle to fix the cracked old one which had broken right after we moved in. We ended up using our key to open the front door for most of the year. What else did we get? Paint. White. White paint. I can’t say that I know how things work in all Jerusalem apartments built out of stone, but ours had a major mold problem all year. And an interesting thing about our basement cave apartment was that there was no insulation for the thick stone walls, a feature which seemed to create the conditions for mold to flourish around the borders of our windows, and on any clothing that found itself in a part of the apartment holding pockets of moist air.

I remember once upon a time long ago, reading through Leviticus or Deuteronomy and seeing commandments about what Israelites were to do if they found mold in their homes: something about letting their dwellings air out first, and if the mold did not subside, tearing them down. Of course this is quite easy to do in the desert when your tabernacle is made of stakes and cloth. But stone is much harder to tear down just because of some pungent moss. In any case, we learned that a typical way of dealing with this mold problem is to paint over it. Americans that we are, we did our best to scrub the mold that might come off first, and for what we couldn’t get we painted over in the standard white.

We left on Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av), perhaps the saddest day in the Hebrew calendar. The day both temples were destroyed, an annual time of fasting and prayer in Israel. So on this tragic remembrance day, most sherutes (airport taxis) were off for the day. But at the last minute we were able to find one that was still operating. I filled out a survey on their website:

Location: Musrara
Passengers: 2
Bags: 6
Pick-up: 4:30 PM
email: XXXXXXX@gmail.com

Recommendation: Van

After filling out this form I received an email with a purchase link that took me to PayPal. I purchased and then promptly received a text via WhatsApp with pickup details: Uber type information, etc.

The taxi van arrived to pick us up at exactly the time they said they would. I was impressed. The driver helped us load our bags. We buckled up. I forgot that we were supposed to wear masks. The driver seemed to let Reagan remind me. I put mine on. I reflected on the temperature of the air conditioning. I was hot and sweaty from moving in the heat but the air now was perfect pleasant. A sigh of relief.

I realize that I have not properly developed the tension to convey the amount of release I felt getting into that van with our bags and heading to the airport. Maybe I will get to this in time, in writing or around dinner tables and fires with friends. But I felt immense relief. And I also felt to myself the question that I opened this writing with: Why is it that we become so tired when we move? Is it only because of the physical exertion and the stress of meeting not easily moveable deadlines? Or is it something else?

I think I have the outline of an answer to these questions. It must have something to do with the extension of one’s existence in a place.

Potted plants seem to be the perfect analogy.

How do plants in the wild live and exist where they do? Well, they sit in the ground with their roots extended into and around the earth beneath them. They are watered according to the weather patterns of their geography. And the sun shines down upon them according to the same patterns. If all of a sudden one of these plants was to be uprooted and potted up to be transported somewhere else, some of its roots would likely be severed in order to squeeze it into the pot that would take it to its new location.

It was on the drive to the airport that I reflected on how human planting is very much like plant planting.

When we moved to Israel from Houston last year, what did we do? We found outlets for our interests, we found friends, we found our Qumran cave apartment in Musrara. We extended ourselves into the city of Jerusalem. In our little apartment, I placed my books in the nook next to the dining table in the kitchen area. I placed my clothes in the closet. I put my toothbrush in the bathroom in a cup next to the sink. Reagan put her books in a stack on the desk in the hallway office. She unloaded a few cups and knives that we had brought with us to make life more comfortable. She placed her clothes into the closet. She and I both extended ourselves into the apartment. The things we own being extensions of the ways we would be in the place where we would reside.

If we were to move we would necessarily have to pull up these rootlike extensions of ourselves and place them into containers in order to travel to somewhere else.

And in this way it seems to me that extension of one’s existence is the natural posture of being human. We are always taking up one of these two postures—extension or de-extension—no matter where we are. We extend in our relationships as well. We make ourselves connected to the people in the places around us. And if we remain unnaturally unextended for too long then we begin to ache in the same way that a person sitting on an airplane for too long begins to ache for not having stretched his legs. Knees are not meant to be bent forever, they’re meant to stretch. Roots are not meant to be walled up in a pot forever, but to be deeply intertwined with the local earth. Surely a thing can become fatigued for not having stretched itself according to its nature.

So even though we were just in Jerusalem, and though it didn’t take us very long to physically pack the things we had to move, getting into the mood of the uproot did take some time and I do feel somewhat tired.

As things stand right now we may be potted plants for a little while, not yet knowing when or where we will decide to be planted, where we will decide to extend ourselves into the earth and be rooted. ☗

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